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“Mindful”

Every day

I see or hear

something

that more or less

 

kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle

 

in the haystack

of  light.

It is what I was born for –

to look, to listen,

 

to lose myself

inside this soft world –

to instruct myself

over and over

 

in joy,

and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,

 

the fearful, the dreadful,

the very extravagant –

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,

 

the daily presentations.

Oh good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help

 

but grow wise

with such teachings

as these –

the untrimmable light

 

of the world,

the ocean’s shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?

 

Mary Oliver, “Moliver,” from Blue Iris, 2014.

This is the third in a series of poems about meditation and mindfulness by Moliver that I wanted to share this month, which included “Drifting” and “On Meditating, Sort of.” In some ways, I think it is the simplest of the three. The direction is right in the title: “Mindful.” Moliver seems to be saying, “This is what it’s like to actually see the world. When we rush on by, we miss it all. But when we are ‘mindful,’ the beauty of the world will kill us with delight.”

I shared this poem a while ago with someone I love dearly. I read it and instantly thought of them, because I knew they would get it. Like Mary Oliver, they were born “to look, to listen,/ to lose” themselves in the natural world and they teach me by example to see the extraordinary in “the ordinary,/ the common, the very drab.” That’s the true gift I think, the one most of us leave unopened, when we prefer big and beautiful things and dismiss the “daily presentations” of grass and water and light. But it’s those little things that can save us every hour. I love how Moliver inverts our educational paradigm – claiming for herself the title of “good scholar” – who grows wise through her observance of nature, not simply through classes and books.

This beloved of mine, the one with whom I shared this poem, is going through a rough patch these days, struggling to be mindful, lost instead in a sea of sea-doubt and fear. I don’t blame them; what they are going through is hard. I can listen, offer my love, a little practical advice, but mostly, I want to whisper in their ear: “Be mindful! Go find something to kill you with delight!” It won’t make their problems go away, but for that moment, it might make them smile and help them remember the gift they bring to the world – their ability to see and capture the magic so many of us pass by.

So, to my beloved friend and to all of you,

Be a good scholar today. Go be delighted by something – in the sky or on the ground, in a bird’s call, or a baby’s laughter. Slow down enough to see it, hear it, fall in love with it, even if for just one moment. It won’t change anything, but it might change everything – eventually.

Nature has wisdom for us all: the cycles of light and dark, new and old, death and rebirth, silence and noise, diversity is health; change is growth; imperfection is inherent, but so too is beauty and abundance. Watch and wait. It will come.

P.S. For some of my readers, my use of the third person plural (they/their) for an individual, instead of the 3rd person singular (he/she/his/hers) may be bothersome. Sorry about that!

 

 

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“On Meditating, Sort Of”

Meditation, so I’ve heard, is best accomplished

if you entertain a certain strict posture.

Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.

So why should I think I could ever be successful?

 

Somedays, I even fall asleep, or land in that

even better place – half-asleep – where the world,

spring, summer, autumn, winter –

flies through my mind in its

hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.

 

So I just lie like that, while distance and time

reveal their true attitudes: they never

heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.

 

Of course, I wake up finally

thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,

made out of earth and water,

my own thoughts, my own fingerprints –

all that glorious, temporary stuff.

 

The poet Mary Oliver, or “Moliver” as she is affectionately referred to around our house, is someone you will see pop up a few times this month. She is one of my favorites and there is a theme in her writing I’d like to explore with all of you: the sacrament of Nature, of being present in the moment however it arises and recognizing it for the holy gift it is.

I think this poem is a great start. Meditation and its companion, mindfulness, are buzzwords these days. They are offered as a remedy for everything from stress to chronic pain, as relief from anxiety and exhaustion. They will help us lose weight, sleep well, and even become better “team players” at work and home! Ugh! It kind of drives me crazy, because developing a meditation practice for those things is like taking a prescription drug for its “off-label” side effects. We might experience a relief of our symptoms, but it’s not what it was made for and it’s definitely not going to cure the underlying cause.

But I think Mary’s version of meditation might be just what the doctor ordered, in its gentle and holistic approach.

Lie down somewhere beautiful and let your mind drift. Don’t cling to what you think you’re supposed to do, or feel, or experience. Let life pass you by for a moment, or two and see yourself in the midst of things, where “distance and time” have “never heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.” From that place, we might wake refreshed and perhaps even “cured” of what ailed us in the first place. We might even find ourselves grateful to be in our own bodies and a part of this beautiful world.

Let this poem inspire you! It’s Spring! Go find a tree, a little patch of sunlight, a place where the breeze can kiss your face. Close your eyes and in the words of Rumi, allow yourself “to be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love,” which I hope is yourself and this beautiful, suffering world we live in.

 

Post Script: I recently acquired a copy of “Moliver’s” newest book, Devotions, as a gift from Tim. I had been on the waiting list at the library for so long and when I finally got my hands on a copy, the weeks just flew by. On the last day it was in my possession, he  caught me taking pictures of page after page on my cell phone. (Desperate times call for desperate measures! It took me months to get my hands on it the first time and I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait again.) However, two days later, it was in my mailbox. Though Tim generally supports my book-buying restraint, in this case, it deserved an exception. I highly recommend you put your name on the waiting list at your local library, or maybe even treat yourself to a copy!